print The Mispricing Factor: Draft Strategies & Tactics

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by Jeff Brazil, Special Contributor

Published, 8/4/11 

So Seth Klarman is the Bill Belichick of investing. He’s one of those guys whom everybody who’s in the know in investing circles watches and wishes they can be like in their next life. When it comes to investments, he’s a zagger, when everybody else is a zigger. Klarman once loaded up on Texaco bonds after the company filed for bankruptcy. He scooped up the bonds at a heady discount because everybody else was shedding them. But Klarman’s research told him the company would eventually rebound and he was spot-on. More recently, one of the stocks he invested in (a biotech firm called Facet) has increased in value a cool 196% in the last year. Klarman’s also like Belichick in that he keeps a low profile and doesn’t reveal much, but his investment strategy pivots mostly around a single theme: mispricings. And it turns out Klarman’s actually a devotee of another investment legend, John Templeton, who started his investment rainmaking during the Depression and one of the quotes attributed to him is, “If you want to have a better performance than the crowd, you must do things differently from the crowd.”
 
The takeaway: if you want to pull out all the stops to try to capture a fantasy title in 2011, go back to well-tuned practices that the Bill Belichicks of the investment world use to correctly price future opportunities and adapt them for fantasy football, namely:

  • Recognize that the “masses” and the ever-expanding cosmos of so-called “experts” will be wrong a significant portion of the time in their advice (For the latest science on why this is the case in many aspects of life, check out this recent article Why Experts Get It Wrong: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/04/why-experts-get-it-wrong/73322/)
  • Do the work necessary to identify players who fall on both sides of the “mispricing” ledger – those whose current value is overstated and those whose current value is understated.
  • Aggressively sweep up those players who are positioned to perform better than the masses and “experts” predict.
  • Be confident in your plan on draft day (and during the season, for that matter), and shake off the weak-minded hordes of doubters, critics, skeptics, haters.
  • With the time for fantasy drafts here at last, this article aims to help you do all of those things by highlighting three main criteria or tactics to consider as you prepare for your draft:
1.       Identifying mispriced players
2.       Securing separation from other teams in your league, regardless of your draft position
3.       Using “unfair advantage” as a player-selection criterion
 
DRAFT CRITERION #1: THE MISPRICING FACTOR
Most people don’t get it. They don’t understand how off-the-mark preseason fantasy rankings can be – and always will be. They’re a critical planning tool, and no one does it better and smarter than the team at FantasyGuru.com, whose preseason rankings, analysis, and insights are elite.
 
But, in 2010, of the 60 players ranked by most preseason publications in the top 20 at QB, RB, and WR, slightly more than half - 35 - actually finished in the top 60.
 
The list of disappointing mispricings included players like QBs Kevin Kolb (ranked 12th, finished 36th), Brett Favre (ranked 8th, finished 29th); RBs Frank Gore (ranked 6th, finished 20th), DeAngelo Williams (ranked 8th, finished 61st), Ryan Grant (ranked 9th, finished 117th), Shonn Greene (ranked 12th, finished 37th), Beanie Wells (ranked 14th, finished 57th); WRs Randy Moss (ranked 2nd, finished 67th), Brandon Marshall (ranked 5th, finished 28th), Steve Smith-Panthers (ranked 10th, finished 73rd), Steve Smith-Giants (ranked 13th, finished 63rd).
 
Note: The 2010 rankings above were more general consensus rankings, not necessarily FantasyGuru.com rankings.
 
Let’s remove the QBs from this list – because, relatively speaking, there was more fantasy stability at QB in 2010 than the other skill positions: Of the 40 players in 2010 ranked by most preseason publications in the top 20 at RB and WR, 22 finished there.
 
What this also means, of course, is that many players who were not part of the consensus top picks in the preseason cracked that list at season’s end:
 
The 2010 Mispricing All Stars
 

Running Backs
Preseason Rank
Actual Rank
Arian Foster
23
1
Jamaal Charles
15
3
Peyton Hillis
63
4
Darren McFadden
38
6
LeSean McCoy
17
7
Matt Forte
21
11
Ahmad Bradshaw
33
14
BenJarvus Green-Ellis
96
15
LaDainian Tomlinson
43
18
Mike Tolbert
88
19
Fred Jackson
36
21
LeGarrette Blount
87
24
Michael Bush
37
26
Danny Woodhead
107
28
Ryan Torain
91
29
Wide Receivers
Preseason Rank
Actual Rank
Brandon Lloyd
123
1
Dwayne Bowe
20
2
Mike Wallace
26
6
Hakeem Nicks
24
7
Steve Johnson
87
10
Mike Williams (TB)
57
12
Terrell Owens
33
15
Mario Manningham
50
17
Kenny Britt
46
21
Lance Moore
68
27
Deion Branch
101
28
Quarterbacks
Preseason Rank
Actual Rank
Michael Vick
34
4
Josh Freeman
27
8

In 2010, of the consensus top-10 players at RB and WR in the preseason, only 9 of the 20 players - now we’re actually below 50% - finished there. Five WRs (Randy Moss, Larry Fitzgerald, Brandon Marshall, Steve Smith-CAR, Miles Austin) and six RBs (Ryan Grant, DeAngelo Williams, Frank Gore, Steven Jackson, Cedric Benson, and Maurice Jones-Drew) all fell short of expectations.
 
2010 was no oddity. In 2009, of the 30 players ranked by most preseason publications in the top 10 at QB, RB, and WR, 16 finished in the top 30. The list of 14 disappointing mispricings included players like QBs Matt Ryan (ranked 7th, finished 19th), Matt Cassel (ranked 8th, finished 20th), RBs Steve Slaton (ranked 9th, finished 35th), Brian Westbrook (ranked 10th, finished 59th).
 
Again, what this also means is that 14 players who were not part of the consensus top 30 when the 2009 season began appeared on that list when the season was over:
 
The 2009 Mispricing All Stars
 

Running Backs
Preseason Rank
Actual Rank
Chris Johnson
12
1
Ray Rice
25
4
Thomas Jones
24
5
Ricky Williams
50
7
Ryan Grant
17
8
Joseph Addai
23
9
Wide Receivers
Preseason Rank
Actual Rank
Miles Austin
65+
3
DeSean Jackson
19
4
Sidney Rice
61
8
Vincent Jackson
16
9
Quarterbacks
Preseason Rank
Actual Rank
Brett Favre
17
3
Ben Roethlisberger
13
9

 
Back in 2008, 18 of the top 30 players at QB, RB, and WR - almost two-thirds - didn’t finish in the top 10 at their positions. If you followed most preseason rankings and drafted players like QBs Derek Anderson (ranked 7th, finished 22nd), Ben Roethlisberger (ranked 5th, finished 18th), or RBs Joseph Addai (ranked 5th, finished 38th), Larry Johnson (ranked 10th, finished 29th), or WR Plaxico Burress (ranked 9th, finished 59th), then you know this better than anyone.
 
There were 18 new names in the top 30 in 2008:
 
The 2008 Mispricing All Stars
 

Running Backs
Preseason Rank
Actual Rank
DeAngelo Williams
34
1
Michael Turner
19
2
Matt Forte
30
3
Thomas Jones
21
5
Steve Slaton
75
7
MJD
15
9
Wide Receivers
Preseason Rank
Actual Rank
Greg Jennings
19
4
Roddy White
18
6
Antonio Bryant
71
8
Calvin Johnson
16
3
Steve Smith (CAR)
12
5
Quarterbacks
Preseason Rank
Actual Rank
Aaron Rodgers
19
2
Philip Rivers
17
3
Kurt Warner
15
5
Chad Pennington
32
9

Let’s go back one more year. In 2007, six of the QBs ranked in the preseason top 10 finished in that tier. The other four (Marc Bulger, Donovan McNabb, Matt Leinart, and Vince Young) finished anywhere from 12th to 53rd at the QB position. At RB, 40 percent of the top-10 preseason picks in 2007 panned out; the other 60 percent (Steven Jackson, Larry Johnson, Shaun Alexander, Willie Parker, Rudi Johnson, and Travis Henry) finished between the 14th and 47th best at the RB position in 2007. At WR, 50 percent of the top picks graded out there. Five of the top-10 WR picks ended up in that first tier, while the other half (Steve Smith-CAR, Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, Donald Driver, and Roy E. Williams) ended up ranked 17th to 101st.
 
Of the top 30 players in 2007, 15 were not expected to be there prior to the season.
 
The 2007 Mispricing All Stars

Running Backs
Preseason Rank
Actual Rank
Adrian Peterson
26
4
Clinton Portis
19
5
Jamal Lewis
24
6
Marion Barber
22
7
Willis McGahee
12
8
Wide Receivers
Preseason Rank
Actual Rank
Braylon Edwards
26
3
TJ Houshmandzadeh
14
7
Marques Colston
16
8
Brandon Marshall
49
9
Quarterbacks
Preseason Rank
Actual Rank
Ben Roethlisberger
16
5
Derek Anderson
50
6
Brett Favre
17
7
Kurt Warner
46
10

This is actually the case each and every year. It doesn’t matter how far back you go. Ranking fantasy players before a single regular season snap is a tough game to be in. Only people who don’t understand fantasy football think differently. For one thing, there are numerous variables that cannot be accounted for, with injury being a biggie. For another, preseason rankings, while an essential reference point for any serious fantasy owner, are too heavily influenced by past performance, especially in the case of top-ranked players.
 
Looking forward to the 2011 season, at least four observations are top of mind as far as the mispricing factor:
 
1) Safe choice? No such thing. It is a fallacy to think that by drafting the highest ranking players on a cheat sheet, even one that has been “updated,” you’re playing it “safe.” It just isn’t true. This is a good thing, if you ask me. If it were that easy, it wouldn’t be near as much fun. Personally, I love the challenge of studying the new season and trying to spot the next wave of rising players.
 
·        Roughly 50% of the time, the preseason top-10 players at RB, WR, and QB will not justify their ranking, come season’s end, whether due to injury or underachievement.
·        In fact, if you extend the analysis to the next tier of 10 players for RBs and WRs – the top 20 RBs and WRs – it is not much better.
·        Remember, in 2010, only 22 of the top 40 RB and WRs - 55 percent - finished there.
·        In 2009, only 14 of the 40 players – 35 percent – ranked in the top 20 at RB and WR met expectations.
·        In 2008, it was 22 of the top 40 players, or 55 percent.
·        And in 2007, the figure was exactly 50 percent.
 
So, here again, we’re hovering around a 50 percent fulfillment rate, even for the top 20 at RB and WR.
 
The QB position has played out somewhat differently the last four years.
 
If you look at the preseason-versus-actual for the top-10 QBs for 2007, and 2008, they were 60 percent accurate for 2007 and 40 percent on the mark for 2008. Once again, we’re around 50 percent. In 2009, predictions at QB held up pretty well; only three of the top 10 (Kurt Warner, Matt Ryan, Matt Cassel) did not match expectations. Then last year, in 2010, we were back at 60 percent success (Tony Romo, Brett Favre, Joe Flaccoand Jay Cutler all disappointed).
 
If you expand it to include the top-20 ranked QBs, the numbers are stronger yet. In 2007, 2008, and 2009, the number of top 20-ranked QBs who finished in the top 20 improved to 65 percent, 75 percent, and 75 percent, respectively. However, what is important is that in all four years, the second tier of QBs (the ones ranked 11 through 20) produced 11 top-10 QBs. In 2007, three QBs ranked 11-20 at the position were actually top-10 QBs (Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger, and Brett Favre); four made the leap from tier two to tier one in 2008 (Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Kurt Warner, and David Garrard); two in 2009 (Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger); and two in 2010 (Matt Ryan and Eli Manning).
 
The bottom line is that a player’s preseason ranking is an important criterion, but it’s going to be realized only about half the time. It’s an important data point and indicator. But if you lean too heavily on preseason rankings and cheat sheets, you run the risk of missing out on the numerous other factors that go into designing a winning roster on fantasy draft day.
 
2)    Mining the Second Tier. While it’s true that the accuracy of the predictions don’t get a lot better if you include the players ranked 11-20 at QB, RB, and WR, it’s also true that the second tier contains numerous mispricing winners. We can see this in the tables above, the ones listing the mispricing all stars, for each of the last four years.
 
In 2010, 6 players ranked in the second tier finished in the top 10 at their positions, including: QBs Eli Manning, Matt Ryan; RBs Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy; WRs Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe.
 
In 2009, 9 players ranked in the second tier finished in the top 10 at their positions, including QBs Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger; RBs Chris Johnson, Ryan Grant, Joseph Addai, Ray Rice, Thomas Jones; WRs Vincent Jackson, DeSean Jackson.
 
In 2008, 11 players in the second tier performed as tier ones: including QBs Kurt Warner, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers; RBs Michael Turner, Maurice Jones-Drew; WRs Steve Smith, Anquan Boldin, Calvin Johnson, Roddy White, Greg Jennings.
 
In 2007, eight players in the second tier of punched through to the top 10, including QBs Ben Roethlisberger, Brett Favre; RBs Willis McGahee, Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis; WRs T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Marques Colston, Plaxico Burress.
 
You can rest assured that in 2011 a number of players ranked in the preseason in the 11-25 range at their positions will put up top-10 stats when it matters most. More specifically, at RB, WR, and QB, the crop of 30 players ranked 11 through 25 are a prime hunting ground for the kind of mispriced players that grease a fantasy title.
 
3)    Matchmaking: Scheme-Team-Player. Every year a few top fantasy performers do explode from the basement of the preseason rankings or come out of proverbial left field. But if you look closely, these players have a few things in common. There is something of a pattern to their ascension. And there is an opportunity for astute fantasy owners to see which players might follow a similar trajectory in 2011.
 
In 2010, players like RBs Arian Foster (ranked 23rd, finished 1st), Jamaal Charles (ranked 15th, finished 3rd), LeSean McCoy (ranked 17th, finished 7th), Ahmad Bradshaw (ranked 33rd, finished 14th); and WRs Mike Wallace (ranked 26th, finished 6th), Hakeem Nicks (ranked 24th, finished 7th) all played in top-ranked offenses well-suited to their skills.
 
Ditto for 2009 for players like RBs Ray Rice (ranked 25th, finished 4th), Thomas Jones(ranked 24th, finished 5th) and WRs Miles Austin(ranked 65+, finished 3rd), DeSean Jackson(ranked 19th, finished 4th), Sidney Rice(ranked 61st, finished 8th), Vincent Jackson (ranked 16th, finished 9th).
 
The same can be said for 2008, when breakout players like RB Chris Johnson (ranked 44th, finished 11th) and WRs Vincent Jackson (ranked 44th, finished 12th), Lance Moore (ranked 118th, finished 14th), Kevin Walter (ranked 66th, finished 18th), Eddie Royal (ranked 58th, finished 20th) all played in high quality offenses. The four receivers listed above were embedded in passing offenses that were ranked 7th, 1st, 4th and 3rd, respectively. In Johnson’s case, the Tennessee Titans had the 7th-ranked rushing attack in the NFL in 2008. So these players didn’t really come “out of nowhere.” They were talented players who got an opportunity on talented teams or in offensive systems that were well tuned to their abilities.
 
We can see a similar pattern in 2007 when RBs Adrian Peterson, Clinton Portis, and Willis McGahee shot into the top 10 from preseason rankings in the teens and low 20s. All three played for teams (Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins, and Baltimore Ravens) with offensive systems that thrived on the running game. In the case of McGahee and Peterson, they were new to their teams. So not only were their talents suited to their new opportunities, but their overall situations also matched motivation with excellent opportunity, individual talent, and team quality.
 
There were three WRs who stole spots in the top 10 in 2007 but who were ranked as WR2s going into the season. In the case of two of them – T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Marques Colston – they joined teams with top-drawer QBs. With the third WR who in 2007 advanced into the top 10 from a preseason WR2 ranking – Plaxico Burress – it was the case of an excellent team giving a talented player a greater role.
 
So, when looking to generate my list of potential mispricings, I look hard at:

         New players or young, yet unproven players in offensive schemes that play to their strengths
         New players joining quality offenses
         Veteran players getting enhanced roles in quality offenses
         New players on teams with premier QBs
 
4) A risk versus a gamble. Maybe the toughest part about the mispricing aspect of approaching a fantasy draft is mental. It is believing in the strength of your convictions and being able to pull the trigger on potentially mispriced gem when “safer” choices are still on the board. It’s the willingness to make investments and take positions that, in the moment, seem like gambles.
 
But there is a world of difference between a risk and a gamble.
 
A gamble is something that rests on chance and chance alone, like a lottery; no amount of skill, preparation, or analysis can affect the outcome. A risk, however, is a strategy that can be informed by knowledge, experience, analysis, planning, and instinct.
 
There is a telling moment in entrepreneur extraordinaire Richard Branson’s book, Screw It, Let’s Do It that makes this point. In Branson’s words:
 
“In 2004 I (Richard Branson) made a TV series, the rebel Billionaire. The final episode had a twist at the end. I offered a prize winner, Shawn Nelson, a cheque for one million dollars – but there was a catch. He could take the cheque or toss a coin for an even bigger mystery prize. If he lost the toss, he would lose it all. I held out the cheque. He took it and saw the long line of zeros. Then I took it back and put it in my hip pocket. I held out a silver coin. ‘Which one will it be?’ I said. ‘The coin or the cheque?’
 
“Shawn looked shaken. It was a huge gamble. All or nothing. He asked me, ‘What would you do, Richard?’
 
“‘It’s up to you’, I said. I could have told him, ‘I take risks, but they are calculated risks. I weigh up the odds in everything I do. Instead I said nothing. He had to make up his own mind.
 
“Shawn walked back and forth, trying to decide. It was tempting to gamble. It would make him look cool. Also, the unknown prize might be amazing. At last, he said he couldn’t risk losing that much money on the toss of a coin…
 
… ‘I’ll take the cheque’, he said.
 
“I was pleased. ‘If you had gone for the coin toss, I would have lost all respect for you,’ I said.
 
“He made the right choice and didn’t gamble on something that he couldn’t control. He got the million dollars and the mystery prize.”
 
So, targeting mispriced players on draft day or, better yet, building a draft plan around securing as many mispriced players as possible and possessing the boldness to take those players when other tried and true choices are still there does represent a risk. But if you do your homework, it is in no way a gamble.
 
The fact is that each and every year fantasy football fortunes rest on precisely this group of players.
 
POTENTIALLY MISPRICED GEMS FOR 2011
When I am putting together my draft plan for each of my leagues in the next few weeks, I will be zeroing in on players from the list below.
 
More important, I will devise a round-by-round draft plan that, for each of my leagues, will call for me to snag these players, perhaps even a round earlier than they might otherwise go.
 
I am willing to take the calculated risk (and weather the doubters, the haters, “experts”, etc.) on these players.
 
While a number of the players listed below have been tabbed as “sleepers” or “values” for 2011, I will go so far as to formulate draft plans that will result in fantasy rosters populated exclusively with these players. In other words, I won’t be taking a passive response and hoping one or more of these mispriced players fall into my lap. I am looking to marshal as many of them as I can. In almost every case, I view these players as not yet having put up their best year; it’s still ahead of them.
 
At RB, I will be intentional in creating a customized draft plan for each of my leagues that sees me acquire four to six of the following players: Jamaal Charles, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, Ahmad Bradshaw, LeGarrette Blount, Ryan Mathews, Mark Ingram, Daniel Thomas, Shonn Greene, Jahvid Best, C.J. Spiller, Mikel Leshoure, Ryan Williams, James Starks, Roy Helu, and Darren Sproles.
 
At WR, I will be aggressively looking to tab two to three of these mispriced players: Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Hakeem Nicks, Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace, Santonio Holmes, Dez Bryant, Pierre Garcon, Johnny Knox, Kenny Britt, Mario Manningham, Mike Thomas, Jacoby Ford, and Lance Moore
 
I usually am one of those who holds off on plucking a QB, and this year there is maybe less cause than ever to spend a high pick on a Michael Vick or a Drew Brees. The QB position was fairly predictable in 2010. Remember, four of the top 10 ranked QBs (Romo, Favre, Flacco, Cutler) disappointed. However, if you look at the preseason top-10 ranked QBs for 2007, 2008, and 2009, 16 out of 30 - or 53% -actually made it into the top 10. This is true even though, when you look at the lists in hindsight, they seem perfectly legit.
 
This year, the QB position has a number of players who I believe are mispriced. In my draft plans for 2011, if I am looking to select a mispriced QB in rounds 4-5, I will be looking at Tony Romo. If my plan calls for targeting a mispriced QB in rounds 6-7, I will draw a bull’s-eye around Matt Schaub. If my draft plan dictates waiting even a bit longer to reel in a mispriced QB – and my draft plans always factor in the individual tendencies and characteristics of the leagues I play in – my bogeys at QB will be Josh Freeman, Matt Ryan, or Eli Manning. Deeper yet, I believe strongly that Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler, and Matt Cassel will best the consensus of predictions about their performance in 2011.
  
POTENTIALLY NEGATIVE MISPRICINGS FOR 2011
Don’t forget that roughly half of so-called “safer” choices will underachieve, whether it’s due to injury or some other factor. So, as far as the other category of mispricings (those who are rated higher by the market than what they might actually deliver), personally, I will be taking extreme caution with the players listed below in 2011. It doesn’t mean they won’t produce or have value relative to other players. But it does mean I believe they will struggle to fulfill their preseason expectations, and therefore, will not justify their current average draft position (ADP).
 
RBs: Peyton Hillis, Steven Jackson, Ryan Torain, Cedric Benson, Michael Turner, Pierre Thomas, and Thomas Jones.
 
WRs: Brandon Marshall, Brandon Lloyd, Chad Ochocinco, Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith (NYG), Michael Williams (SEA), and Earl Bennett.
 
The negative mispricings at QB seem less glaring, but personally I will avoid Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez.
 
For illustration purposes, here is what one draft that relied heavily on a mispricing strategy – 10th pick, highly competitive 14-team league, starts 2 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 Flex, fairly traditional scoring system looked like in 2010:
 
Round 1 – Ryan Mathews
Round 2 – Greg Jennings
Round 3 – Arian Foster
Round 4 – Jermichael Finley
Round 5 – Ahmad Bradshaw
Round 6 – Johnny Knox
Round 7 – Michael Bush
Round 8 – Eli Manning
Round 9 – Matthew Stafford
Round 10 – Mike Williams (TB)
 
DRAFT CRITERION #2: SECURING SEPARATION
A second major criterion to use in crafting a draft plan is to leave your fantasy draft with a team that has a clear competitive advantage at one key position over the other teams in your league.
 
This comes down to sizing up all aspects of your draft – league tendencies, your draft position, your scoring system, etc. – and then strategizing how to emerge from the draft with distinct leverage at one key position, whether it’s RB, WR, or QB.
 
There’s no question it is most effective when you can win the positional advantage at RB, but your draft position may preclude that.
 
While there are never guarantees, at some point in almost every fantasy season, an edge in a key position will likely become an ace-in-the-hole for a highly strategic trade. This can be pivotal because, in addition to Waiver Wire management and week-to-week start/sit approaches, a single timely trade involving a player in a position where you have deliberately managed to get separation from your league’s “pack” can pave the way to a fantasy title.
 
Admittedly, this separation tactic can be tough to execute in the heat of the moment. It can feel like you’re putting yourself in a hole at a key position. But if it’s combined with solid pre-draft planning and preparation and an aggressive posture toward targeting and acquiring positively mispriced players, it can help you be one step ahead of the other teams in your league. And when, inevitably, their need arises for a player at a key position, you can have a ton of leverage to improve your own team.
 
To see what this can look like, here is a relatively successful application of the separation strategy, combined with a bias toward targeting mispriced gems, for one league in 2010 – 9th pick, highly competitive 12-team league, starts 2 RBs, 2 WR/TEs, 1 Flex, combo performance-TD based scoring:
 
Round 1 – Ryan Mathews
Round 2 – Jahvid Best
Round 3 – Jamaal Charles
Round 4 – Jermichael Finley
Round 5 – Ahmad Bradshaw
Round 6 – Jonathan Stewart
Round 7 – Ricky Williams
Round 8 – Brett Favre
Round 9 – Eli Manning
 
That start - loading up on RBs - enabled two trades in Week Two that paved the way to a title: Ahmad Bradshaw and Derek Anderson for Peyton Hillis and Vernon Davis; and Brett Favre for Michael Vick.
 
DRAFT CRITERION #3: LEVERAGING “UNFAIR ADVANTAGE”
There’s a school of thought in business that the companies that will do best in the lean, cut-throat times we’re living in are the ones that relentlessly ask themselves, what is the one thing we do better than anyone else, what is our unfair advantage? Once they dial in the answer, they then remove any and all obstacles to doing what they do best and focus on the one thing that makes them preeminent.
 
This same kind of thinking can be applied to fantasy. It can be highly beneficial during a draft to ask a simple question during every pick of every round: Which player currently on the board is a game-changer, a paradigm-shifter, a high-impact player an NFL defense must account for at all times? In my experience, collecting game-changers on fantasy draft day – combined with an overall approach of targeting mispricings and securing positional separation – can result in a really competitive team, a team that’s fun to root for, and one especially well-suited to take advantage of trades and player acquisitions to bridge any gaps.
 
Combining all three of these draft criteria – acquiring mispricings, securing positional separation, and steering toward players with talents that give them an unfair advantage even over their peers (and cause insomnia for defensive coordinators), here is what one 2010 draft looked like – 6th pick, competitive 10-team league, 2 RBs, 2 WR/TEs, 1 Flex, standard scoring:
 
Round 1 – Michael Turner
Round 2 – Ryan Mathews
Round 3 – Miles Austin
Round 4 – Antonio Gates
Round 5 – Jermichael Finley
Round 6 – Joe Flacco
Round 7 – Reggie Bush
Round 8 – Ahmad Bradshaw
Round 9 – Johnny Knox
Round 10 – Mike Williams (TB)
 
POTENTIAL DRAFTS FOR 2011
Okay, a lot of factors contribute to a fantasy title, and it’s seemingly getting more and more competitive each year. But there are certain thoughts I refuse to have when I’m wrapping up my drafts: In hindsight, I wish I would have (FILL IN THE BLANK), or I’m not exactly thrilled with (FILL IN THE BLANK), or I’ll need some breaks, or I think I’ll be able to compete. I want to win, I want to have fun, and I have found that, in order to do both, I have to prepare more thoroughly than my league-mates and be willing to take more risks – not gambles, but legitimate, calculated risks.
 
With that thought in mind, and with the benefit of the three main draft criteria outlined in this article, here are three draft scenarios that I would consider to be strong drafts that would put a 2011 fantasy owner in a position to excel in a 12-team league with a standard 2 RB, 2 WR/TE, 1 FLEX roster requirement:
 
Picking near the top of Round One:

1st Pick: Jamaal Charles
2nd Pick: Larry Fitzgerald     
3rd Pick: Ahmad Bradshaw
4th Pick: Santonio Holmes    
5th Pick: Tony Romo
6th Pick: Daniel Thomas
7th Pick: Jimmy Graham
8th Pick: Mario Manningham
9th Pick: James Starks
10th Pick: Mike Thomas
 
Picking near the middle of Round One:
1st Pick: Ray Rice
2nd Pick: Greg Jennings
3rd Pick: LeGarrette Blount
4th Pick: Dez Bryant
5th Pick: Vernon Davis
6th Pick: Pierre Garcon
7th Pick: Joseph Addai
8th Pick: Josh Freeman
9th Pick: Matthew Stafford
10th Pick: Roy Helu
 
Picking near the bottom of Round One:
1st Pick: Calvin Johnson
2nd Pick: Aaron Rodgers
3rd Pick: Antonio Gates
4th Pick: Dez Bryant
5th Pick: Ryan Grant
6th Pick: Mark Ingram
7th Pick: Beanie Wells
8th Pick: James Starks
9th Pick: Deion Branch
10th Pick: Ryan Williams 

Jeff Brazil is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, writer and editor based in Southern California. He has been playing fantasy football since 1990.
 

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